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California Wrongful Death Claims and Damages

Posted by Inna Gorin | Jul 31, 2017

A wrongful death claim is made when a person dies due to the wrongful or negligent actions of another. It is taken to court by the survivors of the deceased individual or by a personal representative of their estate.

The fault is expressed exclusively in terms of money damages, which a court can order the defendant to pay to the survivors.

Wrongful Death Claims in California

A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit entirely separate from a criminal charge of homicide. Wrongful death can occur when no crime has happened, but even if there is a criminal case, a wrongful death suit can be brought at the same time and does not end if the criminal trial results in a not guilty verdict.

These kinds of claims are highly complicated and often involve substantial sums of money, so it is critical for anyone who thinks they have the right to sue to discuss their options with an experienced Los Angeles wrongful death attorney as soon as possible.

Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim?

When someone you love dies in an accident, it's a natural reaction to seek justice by taking legal action. However, not anyone can come forward and file a wrongful death claim,

Generally, California law allows a wrongful death claim to be brought by the deceased's family. However, as is true in many areas of the law, “family” can be broadly defined. Below is a list of individuals who can file a wrongful death claim in California courts:

  • Spouse – the surviving spouse of the deceased victim has the legal right to file a wrongful death lawsuit in the state of California.
  • Putative spouse – a putative spouse is an individual who believes they were involved in a valid marriage with the victim, but in reality, the wedding was void or voidable. These are spouses who are found by the court to believe in good faith the marriage was valid and they were financially dependent on the deceased.
  • Domestic partner – a surviving domestic partner, meaning a person who at the time of the death was the domestic partner of the victim in a registered domestic partnership.
  • Children – if a child loses their biological or adoptive parent in wrongful death, they can file a claim. This would also apply to stepchildren as long as they can prove they were financially dependent on the victim at the time of death. Additionally, a minor who had lived with the deceased victim for at least 180 days before their death and was dependent on the victim for at least 50% of their financial support can file a claim.
  • Parents – if a parent loses their minor child or adult child who has no descendants, they have the legal right to recovery by filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Additionally, parents may pursue a claim to prove they were financially dependent on their child.
  • Heirs – if the deceased victim had no surviving spouse or children, other family members who are considered heirs under California intestacy laws have a legal right to file a wrongful death claim. Heirs are the individuals who would inherit the deceased victim's property if they died without a will.

What If Several Eligible People File a Wrongful Death Claim?

In many wrongful death cases, there could be several people who are eligible to file a claim, such as a spouse, children, or parents of the deceased victim.

By law, everyone who has a legitimate claim has to be named in a wrongful death lawsuit. Typically, it can be challenging for one lawyer to represent all eligible individuals without an ethical conflict.

In these situations, it could be possible to make the case more manageable by having the designated personal representative of the deceased victim pursue the wrongful death claim on behalf of all eligible survivors.

Since there are so many potential complications in wrongful death claims, you should consult with an experienced wrongful death lawyer who will aggressively fight for your rights against the individual responsible for the death.

Our injury attorneys have the knowledge, compassion, and desire to handle your wrongful death claim.

How Are Damages Calculated?

Damages fall into two categories, economic and non-economic. Monetary damages can include expenses suffered by the plaintiff, meaning actual money spent on hospital bills, funeral expenses, etc.

Much harder to calculate is the loss of financial support. Throughout life, the deceased would have contributed income to the family, and the family is entitled to recover for the loss of that amount. As you might guess, this is often highly contentious and difficult to determine and can include a wide range of different things.

Non-economic damages are more nebulous. This is compensation for the loss of the deceased – the loss of the love and companionship of a spouse, the guiding hand of a parent.

These things do not have a dollar amount attached to them, and the law only requires that the amount is “just.”

Non-economic damages are not compensation for the grief of losing a family member, nor for any suffering experienced by the deceased during the incident in question. California law does not allow juries to consider these things when making an award.

How a Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Help You

Losing a loved one is invariably a challenging experience, and the last thing that you should be concerned with at this difficult time is holding the party responsible for the tragedy inflicted upon you and your family legally liable. Fortunately, the Los Angeles wrongful death attorneys of Injury Justice Law Firm are available to help. Some of the specific ways in which we can help you include the following:

  • We Will Determine Whether You Have a Claim – Our injury attorneys will evaluate your case and determine whether you have a wrongful death claim to pursue at no cost to you.
  • We Will Attempt to Negotiate a Settlement with the Insurance Company – A significant percentage of wrongful death cases are settled by the at-fault party's insurance company. In these cases, it is necessary for the survivors of victims to establish their damages, including those on which it is difficult to place a monetary value, such as the loss of love, community, attention, affection, moral support, and guidance.
  • If Necessary, We Will Take Your Case to Court – Sometimes, it is simply not possible to come to a settlement agreement that adequately compensates surviving family members for their losses. When this occurs, it may be necessary to take the case to trial, which many attorneys are hesitant to do. At our injury law firm, we are always prepared to take your case to test if it is in your best interest to do so.

There are few times when the attorney you hire matters more than when a wrongful death has occurred. Injury Justice Law Firm has attorneys specializing in wrongful death cases and can give you the peace of mind that your legal rights are 100% protected at this challenging time. Contact us today for a free, no-risk consultation at 310-734-7974. Serving the greater Los Angeles area.

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About the Author

Inna Gorin

Inna Gorin, the founding Partner of Injury Justice Law Firm modeled the Firm after her ideals and principles of what skilled, aggressive and tenacious representation of individual clients should embody. Ms. Gorin's mission is to level the playing field, and provide her clients with the same level...


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